Chamber’s marriage to EDC still taking shape

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If you think the Chamber will be different following its merger with the EDC, it will.

The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, which champions small businesses, is now married to an organization that champions large-scale and manufacturing businesses, the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.

And like any marriage, there’s going to be compromise.

One side will shed some old habits, leaders say, like hosting events for the sake of hosting events. The other side will seek more alliances with the community’s influential leaders, such as the military and politicos.

One Chamber and EDC board member calls it the best of both worlds.

Combined, the new organization has a slimmed-down form from one year ago, most recently with the layoffs of four staffers who were with the Chamber before the merger, including a senior vice president. The move left some small-business owners nervous about the future; others are wide-eyed with anticipation.

Leaders of the merged Chamber and EDC say they are still developing the relationship between the two organizations and the mission is still unfolding.

“Right now I’m not in a position to give details on the planning. We are still working through the details,” President and CEO Joe Raso said.

The new organization will be renamed and won’t have the words “EDC” or “Chamber” in its moniker. It’s a way of shaking the image of the past, said Chris Blees, BiggsKofford CEO and Chamber and EDC board member. The title EDC has been tied to the concept of one mission: bringing in big companies. It doesn’t tell the whole story of the new merged group’s focus on business development, he said.

“The reality is we are redirecting both organizations and redirecting it away from business as usual,” he said. “Neither organization is going to do what it used to do.”

When it came to business development, the former Chamber fell short, Blees said. The former EDC was focused on bringing in big business but lacked the Chamber’s networking tools and resources.

“The EDC mission was to identify challenges and barriers, and the Chamber had solutions,” Blees said. “You match them and it looks great — it looks very different.”

If business owners, chamber ambassadors or EDC investors have concerns about the marriage, they aren’t speaking now.

More than a dozen business owners contacted by CSBJ expressed concerns about the changes; however, no one spoke publicly.

“My mom always said if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything,” one small-business owner said.

Ron Ballman, manager of Colorado Springs Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, said he hopes small-business education programs will be part of the new organization’s mission.

“Small business is the avenue where most jobs are created and will be in the future,” Ballman said. “We are a community driven by small business.”

John Whitten, Colorado Springs State Bank senior vice president, said the best way to build cheerleaders for the new organization is to build up membership among existing local businesses.

“Get them to be advocates,” he said. “As opposed to going after big fish; there are not as many out there anymore.”

The combined mission of the organization is business development for all businesses, Raso said.

The Chamber and EDC board of directors will meet over the next three months to discuss vision and a strategic plan, Raso said. For now, events planned by the Chamber and EDC through the rest of the year will go on as scheduled.

“Next year, we will assess all the programming,” he said.

Blees expects fewer events in the coming years. Events, he said, will be based on the concept that they create opportunities for all businesses.

“The annual trip to D.C. may be more strategic, with fewer individuals,” he said. “It may be more about pointed and influential people than ‘let’s go to D.C. and have a good time.’”

In the merger, there also is the detail of combined financing. The Chamber had a diverse funding model, getting its revenue from membership dues, events and investors. The EDC budget was driven primarily by investors. The challenge will be to maintain investment from members of both sides of the union.

“I hope all the EDC investors contribute at the same level and the Chamber (members) contribute at the same level,” Blees said.

So far, it looks like an equal amount of former Chamber contributors and former EDC contributors have joined the new organization, he said.

The Chamber and EDC’s board of governors, those who contribute more than $10,000 in cash or in-kind services to the organization, have a vote for the board of directors. There are about 90 in the board of governors, half of whom were investors in both the former EDC and Chamber.

“I don’t get the feel that it’s swaying one direction or another,” Blees said.

One Response to Chamber’s marriage to EDC still taking shape

  1. It’s going to take awhile before this organization has any identity.

    Aside from the ususal challenge of merging vision and mission, it has the added problem of ‘elitist’
    (only $10,000 contributors get to vote… ) membership attitudes, a virtually unworkable Board number (90 Board members?…really?), and a new leader who’d never been to Colo Sprgs before he intereviewed for the job.

    Identity may not be the biggest problem……credability may be the first, and biggest, hurdle…….

    John Whitten
    August 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm